I think that Stravinsky's Firebird is a fabulous piece -- if someone else is playing it. There is some music that is just not meant to be played by amateurs and not just for reasons of difficulty. I have played Strauss's Death and Transfiguration. It is very hard but the part has a high degree of violinism. I would really enjoy the challenge of playing Don Juan with the right folks. But there is just some music that doesn't lie well on the violin, is filled with absurd transitions etc., that should be limited to people who get paid to play it.
Firebird, Pictures at an Exhibition, Pines of Rome, Rhapsody Espagnole etc. are all in the category of great pieces to listen to but just a terrible imposition on anyone not being paid to play. There are many hard pieces that I would bust my chops to play (in the right circumstances) that are generally seen as too hard for amateurs. I would practice for a year to play Enigma Variations, any Brahms symphony or a Strauss tone poem. I have played Mahler symphonies and the like in performances that have been reasonably successful. It isn't hard that I am complaining about. It is the brutalization of the instrument and its principles that I don't care for. I can't argue with the aural effect. But you'll have to pay me to play them and if you're going to pay you'll undoubtedly find someone more able.
Sigh... the performance is this Sunday and I am resigned to it.
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When I was studying regularly, my teacher tried to get me to play things artistically. He was always talking about harmony, the function of notes in chords, form, etc. etc. I felt like a kindergartener in a post graduate lecture on nuclear physics. He chided me. "Don't you want to know this". Of course I wanted to know but I don't have years to study, don't play the piano, don't have a particularly remarkable ear and all the other foundational things that define an artist.
But I found another course. My teacher studied piano with the late Cecile Genhart. One day he was about to play and she told him to stop. He replied that he hadn't played yet. She said in her Swiss-German accent "it was going to be ugly".
If I can't make it beautiful perhaps I can make my music not ugly. I once posted a list here of things that make music ugly like false accents, clumsy string crossings etc. but lists don't work well without some "key of knowledge."
I think I may have found my key of knowledge. Focus on the last note. The last note of what? The last note of a phrase, the last note of a bow, the last note of a motif or figure, the last note before a rest, etc. This has a strange way of forcing you to prepare well for the last note and forces you to consider the 'run-up' to the last note.
I won't claim that this makes my playing beautiful. I still don't have the harmonic, formal and aesthetic tools to realize beauty except in the most accidental way but I am learning the tools to making something 'not ugly'.
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More entries: February 2009
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